The greatest gift…

It was a typical day in the life of Seth. He was a rambunctious, tough willed young kid who enjoyed playing his video games and wasting his summers away just enjoying life. He got up, had his cereal and sat down to watch some TV before heading out to ride his bike to his buddies houses. Later that afternoon as he was coming home his Dad stopped him and said “Get in the car bud. We are going to check out a Karate place for you since you said you wanted to learn”. Seth was ecstatic and filled with anticipation because he wanted to learn Karate for quite some time now.

Driving to the Karate school Seth fidgeted back and forth in the seat looking for the sign. As they pulled in his Dad reminded him that, if they sign him up, there would no quitting and Seth agreed. Entering the dojo they were greeted by a man wearing a white outfit but Seth couldn’t take his eyes off of the worn out black belt around his waist. The school was quiet and a bit warm but very awesome looking with all the neat Karate stuff sitting around. Seth waited as his Dad and the teacher had a small discussion on what Seth was being enrolled for. Soon the teacher walked out of the office with a brand new white uniform and handed to Seth. His eyes lit up and he could hardly wait to put it on and get learning.

Seth changed quickly and scooted back out into the lobby, ever so eager to begin Karate. The teacher strolled over, very relaxed and sat down next to Seth. “Your first lesson you are going to learn is about respect Seth. My name is Perry Sensei and you are to call me Sensei at all times, inside and outside of the dojo. Seth nodded in agreement and Sensei smiled. “Ok. Are you ready to begin learning Karate?” asked Sensei to which Seth gave an overly eager “Yes” to. The Sensei showed Seth to the edge of the mat and said “We must first pay our respects to our training area but it much more than that. With this simple, and humble bow, We are also respecting everyone who trains with us and those that have come before us in our dojo. When you bow you do not do so hastily. Pause for a second, allow your mind to clear, take a deep breath and then bow.” Seth followed every word from the Sensei and then was welcomed onto the mat.

His first class was very simple and consisted of some stances and basic punches as well as kicks. During the class Seth hung on every word, every detail, trying his best to perform the techniques as he was being taught. When the class had ended the Sensei spoke to Seth about the pictures on the wall in the dojo explaining who taught him and who taught his teacher. “This is your lineage and history. It is important that you know this because, without knowing where we came from we can never have any solid idea of where we can grow to,” stated the Sensei. “Now we will bow respecting them for all of their sacrifices they did to spread Karate so that we can train here today, in this dojo and learn what they have passed on to us”. Seth paused, stared at the photos for a second and bowed very deeply. “Great job today Seth. See you tomorrow,” said Sensei.

Seth went home and practiced his techniques, working hard to impress his Sensei. The next day he went through his second class and learned a Kata, or pattern, as the Sensei called it. Then came his third class and he was reviewed and asked to participate in regular classes in the dojo. During his enrollment the Sensei explained that his not “participating in classes” but rather is giving his commitment to train, earn his black belt and be a part of the school. Seth was excited and just couldn’t wait to attend regular classes.

During the first year Seth trained regularly often attending three nights or more in a week. He worked hard and progressed steadily in earning new belts. He was learning and growing as young kid too, always being respectful and eager to learn both inside and outside of the dojo. As the year moved on training became a bit tougher and demanding as the requirements grew with each new belt he had earned. As it grew tougher Seth began to lose a bit of interest and it started to show at home as Dad struggled to get him ready to head to the dojo. No matter what Seth felt like he was shuffled off to the dojo and had to train. In the dojo he couldn’t slack off and had to give his best. His Sensei would often remind him that “anything in life worth achieving will require hard work, sweat, sacrifices and even a bit of suffering from time to time”. Seth did his best not to complain and to train but things began to change.

During Seth’s second year at the dojo he began to fight with his parents about going. He would often complain that classes were boring some days or too tough on others and he wasn’t any good at Karate. He would try and find excuses that his homework wasn’t done or he didn’t feel good just to skip out on going to classes. Eventually he got to the point where he just wanted to quit and told his Dad this. His Dad would force him to grab his Karate stuff, get in the car and then take him to class. During classes his quitting attitude would often come out and the Sensei would ride him a bit harder, never accepting any excuses or lackluster effort from him. Seth was getting more and more upset that he was being forced to attend classes and do something he didn’t want to do any longer. The new belts had stopped coming as steadily has they had before and training had become much more detailed and stringent on what was expected of him. He would often get discouraged and just want to throw up his hands and walk out.

At the beginning of Seth’d third year in Karate he had now entered his teens. He was wanting to do other sports, hang with his friends more often and simply began to show no interest in going to classes at all. One day his Dad set him down and reminded him about the day he began training. “Do you remember when Sensei said you were agreeing to train and earn a black belt,” asked his Dad. Seth nodded and before he could say anything else his Dad added “Are you a black belt?”. Seth replied he was not and stated why he wanted to quit and to do other things. His Dad looked at him sternly and said “You can do those other things but you cannot quit what you began. We will work out a schedule to fit it in, plus your studies, and you will stick to it”. Seth was very mad and frustrated feeling his Dad wasn’t listening to his pleas to quit Karate. Little did Seth know that his Dad had listened. He had been watching his once eager Karate son begin to show lack of effort and dedication to his training.

Seth was not going to be allowed to quit Karate. It was very plain and simply stated by his Dad that he expected Seth to follow through on his promise since he gave his word to his Sensei, and to him, that he would train and earn his black belt. It was never easy on his Dad either. Often times his Dad felt like throwing in the towel and just letting Seth quit. Getting Seth to Karate also meant cutting into Dad’s free time when he could be doing something he wanted to do. Seth’s Dad worked hard to provide for his family often just getting home in time to load him up and head off to Karate. He wanted the world for his son and knew that he, as the parent, needed to teach his son the value of commitment and honoring one’s word now, when Seth is a kid. This meant pushing his son to follow through on what he said he would do, even when he struggled to be the parent. Seth’s Dad set down, built a schedule out for his son’s sports, Karate and schooling. This also meant he would have to help his son stay disciplined to stick to the schedule in order for it to work. Seth’s Dad committed to do this because he knew, from his own experiences in life, that self discipline, hard work and integrity were needed to help his child grow into a successful man, husband and parent…he simply wanted his son to be strong and grow up to be a success in whatever he chooses to do in life.

A few more years past by and Seth still made it to dojo twice a week as well as his other sports and commitments. Through the parenting of his Dad he had learned how to prioritize things so that he could achieve goals. Through the discipline of Karate and help of his Sensei he learned how to become strong and focused. Seth grew into a strong athlete and his coaches became very proud of him throughout his high school years. While other kids were drinking and getting trouble, Seth stayed the course and focused on where he wanted to go in life.

Soon came Seth’s senior year in high school. He was a standout athlete, doing very well academically and was soon to earn his black belt. He had a beautiful girlfriend, lots of good buddies and everyone knew Seth as a strong, focused and determined young man. He had applied and been accepted to many colleges of his choice. Before Seth graduated he earned his black belt in Karate. The day of the ceremony his Sensei reminded him “Karate is life and life is Karate. They are one in the same. The same lessons you have learned in the dojo also apply to everything you do in life. Commitment, self discipline, focus, determination, growth all matter. Learning that a failure is but a stepping stone to success will take you far in life. Never be afraid to fail, because you will, but also never quit, never give up and always face life’s challenges like you did this black belt exam. Bring your best and be your best. You will turn out fine and life will be great for you”. Seth ponder on those lessons, his mind racing back over the years that he wanted to quit Karate. Now, that he had earned his black belt, he finally could…but his heart was heavy knowing he would soon move away. He was going to miss the dojo, his classmates and his Sensei very much as he headed off to college.

Time, like all things, goes by way to fast. Many years had pasted since that day Seth earned his black belt and then graduated high school. He had done well in college and landed a decent job, starting at the bottom, for a good company. Now, today he is a full grown man with a wife and two kids. His kids are growing up in a local Karate dojo that Seth has been training at for many years. He is constantly reminded why his Dad never let him quit because they are just like he was at that age. He is beginning to see life come full circle and finally understand why his Dad and his Sensei were so demanding on him, often making him do things he just didn’t want to do.

That summer Seth loaded his family up and headed back home for a family reunion. He was excited to see his Dad because the distance between where he lives and his hometown is quite far. As they were coming into his hometown he drove past his old dojo. His memories filled up with all the great things he learned from his Sensei and the students in that place. He exclaimed to his kids as they drove by about that being where he learned Karate as a child and earned his black belt.

Pulling into the driveway of his father’s home he was warmly greeted by his parents. They were excited to see his kids and exclaimed about how much they had grown since the last time they saw them. Seth’s job keeps him very busy but he always makes time for his kids however getting back to see his parents is tougher these days than it used to be. Seth heads into the house and walks into his old bedroom noticing all the photos up on the wall just as he left him. Over in the corner is his awards area which is filled with trophies from Karate and other sports. His diploma from high school sits on the top shelf still in great condition as if he had just earned it yesterday. Seth sits down on the bed, quietly going through all his thoughts in his head about how hard is Dad was on him when he wanted to quit things. He remembers throwing constant fits and being dragged to the dojo from time to time. A brief but welcomed smile comes to corners of his mouth as he just allows his mind to wonder.

That night Seth loads the car up with his kids and heads out to the dojo. He is exited and eager to see his Sensei because it has been many years since his last visit. Seth and the kids walk into the dojo and the Sensei comes out of the office. Seth walks up to his Sensei, bows and introduces his children. He excitedly proclaims about them being in Karate and how much they are just like him at that age. The Sensei smirks and says “Well that is both good and bad but you turned out alright young man”. Seth smiles and asks if they can join classes that evening. The Sensei eagerly anticipates their attendance and agrees. Classes were great and Seth loved seeing all his old friends, many of who are now black belts and have their kids training too. As the dojo clears out Seth walks around looking at the photos on the wall and sees himself as a young man. He notices that in many of the photos from his early teen years he often looks upset or doesn’t grin. His mind reminds him of how much he hated coming to classes and how badly he wanted to quit. As he heads out of the dojo he notices one last photo on the wall. In it his face has a large smile and he looks very happy. It is his black belt award ceremony photo. In this one image he sees how much it meant to accomplish something, a thing that he wanted to quit, and he remembers how that same feeling came to him in sports, in college and even in his job since he has became older. Seth turns to the Sensei, bows very deeply and utters a very heartfelt thank you to which the Sensei replies “No. Thank you for never giving up on yourself…even with your Dad’s help. It was great having you hear, meeting your kids and I look forward to the day you can make it again”.

As time neared to head back home the day after the family get together Seth asked to talk to his Dad for a few minutes. Seth and his Dad went out back, sat down at the small table overlooking the backyard. Seth could feel the warmth of the sun shining down across the green grass and he could remember the smell from mowing that yard thousands of times as a young kid. He remembered hating that wanting to quit doing it as well. A few moments of silence passed by before Seth turned to his Dad and said “When I was a kid you never let me quit anything. There were times I just down right thought I hated you and couldn’t understand why God would give me such a mean father. Now I understand exactly why you were this way with me. I was a quitter inside and you didn’t want that for your son. I love you with all my heart Dad and will never be able to tell you how much I appreciate you being my Father.” Seth paused for a second because he was choking up seeing his Dad’s eyes getting a bit watery. “All my life I have always had those feelings that I wanted to give up. It happened in college but you sternly corrected my attitude. It happened the first few years at my job but you always reminded me that to get to the top I had work in the pit and climb my way out. The first few years I was married I wanted to give up many times but you told me that marriage is not meant to be all bunnies and hugs. You have raised me into who I am Dad and you are the reason I am where I am in life” Seth let out through some tears in his eyes. His Dad smiled his tiny grin that Seth remembered seeing every time he accomplished something, be it his black belt to graduating college to getting married, that grin was a reminder how much his Dad loved him and how pleased he was with him. A short pause permeated the the flowing breeze crossing the back yard the was gentle waving the leaves and fidgeting the grass. After a few moments Seth’s Dad turned to him and said “I love you Son. It was because I loved you that I had to be your parent, not your friend. There were many times I felt like I should just let you quit things so I could enjoy life a bit more instead of running you to all your activities but I knew that wouldn’t help you. It was because I loved you so much that I wanted the best for you…for you to grow into the man you have become. You are my namesake, my son and for you there is nothing I wouldn’t have given to provide a good life,” his Dad stated now choking back the tears. “You grew into the man I knew you could become and I am very proud of you. Now, it is your turn to be the father for your children and I can only pray that I have been a good Dad so you can be one too”.

Seth paused, tears flowing down his cheeks and he smiled back at his Dad. This man taught him the value of being a man, a father and what it means to be a parent. His heart welled up with emotion and he hugged his Dad tightly. Seth looked at his father, who had aged with tuffs of grey hair where there once stood dark as knight thickness in his scalp. He noticed the wrinkles on his cheeks and the slump in his shoulders but here was still the man he always knew as his Dad. “You are my hero Dad…thank you”, stated Seth has he hugged him one more time before heading out on his journey back home.

After Seth left his Dad sat out back just enjoying the light breeze and slowly chilling air as the sun began to set. He realized that everything he sacrificed and all the toughness he often regretted in raising his son was more than worth it. That smirk, almost a smile, came across his face and he felt content in life…and Seth, while driving home, had a small smirk across his face, almost a smile, and he felt content in life…

This is the greatest gift that we can ever give…the gift of life…it will not be easy, and it is not meant to be…but in the end it will be worth more than anything in the world.

A short story by Steven Franz, Shihan

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